The late Pete Seeger's spirit shines prominently across Croton Point Park's Clearwater Festival, which he founded. In addition to hosting such musical acts as Mavis Staples, Ani DiFranco, and The Wailers, the 2019 edition of Clearwater, which took place June 15 & 16, recognized the folk icon's 100th birthday as well as the 50th anniversary of the tall sloop Clearwater, a ship Seeger had built to promote the revival of the Hudson River.

The Hudson is Clearwater's primary agenda. Musicians, organizers, story-tellers, vendors, jugglers and attendees arrive ready to engage and entertain (or be entertained) across the numerous stages or under several tents. Through sail boat tours, educational displays and grassroots activism, Clearwater raises funds to help "environmental research, education and advocacy efforts to help preserve and protect the Hudson River and its tributaries, as well as communities in the river valley." As a family-friendly fest, Clearwater encourages younger generations to support their cause -- some families make attending this festival an annual tradition.

The diverse performers on Saturday were all for activism, social justice and seeing Mavis Staples. On the main stage, Woodstock-based folk group The Mammals put on a rousing set that included danceable tunes, like the soaring "Bright", and socially conscious songs like "My Baby Drinks Water" and "Culture War" (all while Ani DiFranco watched from the side). Ruthy Ungar shared that the group has their own semi-annual holistic music festival, The Hoot which happens later this summer ("the winter hoot in winter") near Woodstock.

Up next: Brooklyn's The Lone Bellow, who played an entirely acoustic set -- trading guitars and vocal duties around one microphone. Their set included "Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold" as well as a cover of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth." Zach Williams noted that the band had been working on a new record in the area and also that they looked forward to seeing Staples, as they had joined her for a couple of her 80th birthday shows (including one at The Apollo Theater).

Ani DiFranco's powerful set leaned on newer material as she sang about the political climate and support for human rights, with Gracie and Rachel joining her toward the end of her set. The one of her newer recordings is a revival of a '30s song from "Florence Reese, the wife of a union organizer in the coal mines of Kentucky" (per Billboard). With a big smile upon her face, she declared, "I couldn’t be happier being here. It’s always like a homecoming at Clearwater." Her set was momentarily disrupted, though, as she paused to glimpse a hawk circling above (it had drawn the audiences' attention away from the stage, too).

Finally, the legendary Mavis Staples took the stage with her band to perform the Staples Singers classic "If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)." Staples told the audience she would be playing some newer material, some for the first time, from her recently released album We Get By. While The Lone Bellow didn't join her this time, Staples echoed their set with her own version of "For What It's Worth" before ending with "No Time For Crying" as a tribute to the immigrant children who are being hurt by our government.

Around the festival on Saturday, I caught some more rock-oriented performers including The Rad Trads and Chogyi Lama, and Deadgrass who packed the dance tent and the white-breasted hawk. I also heard young activist Alexandria Villaseñor call upon the younger generation to participate in a general climate strike on September 20th, "before world leaders arrive in New York for the United Nations climate summit."

I wasn't able to attend the Sunday of Clearwater but it featured artists like The Wailers, Railroad Earth, Del McCoury Band on the main stage and Tom Paxton & Don Juans, Birds of Chicago, and Rebel Diaz elsewhere. Pictures from Saturday of Clearwater are in the gallery above and video of Mavis and The Lone Bellow are below.


photos and words by Sachyn Mital

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